THE French sports paper L’Equipe recently published a cover with Lionel Messi made up to look like another famous son of the Argentine city of Rosario – Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara.
Lionel had become ‘Che’ Messi because of the way he took on the Barcelona directors, standing up to them after they used media leaks to force the players to accept salary reductions during the coronavirus shutdown.
“It can only surprise us,” said Messi in a statement, “that, inside the club, there were those who were trying to pressure us to do something that we made it clear we were already going to do.”
This is not the first sign of a combative, rebellious Messi. In early February he was not pleased by remarks made by his former team-mate, Barcelona’s director of football Eric Abidal.
Towards the end of the reign of coach Ernesto Valverde, said Abidal, some players were unsatisfied and were not working hard enough.
“If you’re going to talk about players,” replied Messi, “then you have to give names, otherwise you are dirtying the reputation of everyone, and feeding rumours which are not true.”
Clearly all is not well between the Catalan club and its biggest star – and there has even been speculation that Messi could be moving on, with Inter Milan casting envious eyes across the Pyrenees.
But there is something else going on. This is not just a case of Messi becoming more vocal with the directors of his club. It is a case of Messi becoming more vocal.
This was plain to see last year when he was on national team duty in the Copa America.
During his time with Argentina there has often been a feeling that Messi was an aloof figure, shut in his own introspective world, who, with the exception of trusted friends such as Sergio Aguero and Javier Mascherano, was not big on communication.
A CHANGED MAN
In Brazil for the Copa, though, he was a changed man.
“In this Copa America he was different,” said Angel Di Maria, his international team-mate for so many years.
“I liked the way that he talked, both to the group and to the press. For the younger players, it was fundamental. I really like this version of Messi.”
Argentina’s captain even talked himself into trouble, picking up a suspension for an unwise remark about the tournament being corrupt.
But he defended the team for ages after the match, speaking to journalists with admirable patience.
And in training and on the field and even in the team hotel there were reports of Messi as a vocal, encouraging figure.
The conclusion would seem to be clear. All of this would appear to be the product of a conscious decision by the little genius, an acknowledgement that in the time he has left as a player he is ready, willing and able to assume the burden of leadership.